The Folly of Taking Shortcuts
A bit of a professional’s rant today. I’ve had indie writers ask me to proofread their manuscripts when it's patently obvious that their work hasn’t actually been edited in the first place. A proofread is not an edit, in any way, shape, or form. Yes, it will point out and correct grammatical errors, cleaning your copy for the reader, but it will not tackle beneath-the-skin issues that stifle lifeblood to the heart of the novel.
Why be content with a ‘clean’ copy when your novel may be plagued with a plethora of structural problems that will come to notice once the book is released? Readers don’t like being hoodwinked, and will lose no time in letting others know that a specific book should be given a pass due to its many plot holes, poor syntax, and weak characterisation, just to mention some of the many issues they’ll come across.
I’m a hoary old sceptic at heart, which isn’t such a bad thing, and find myself wondering about the underlying reasons a writer would be satisfied with only a proofread before release. Not even a copy edit! Maybe they’re under the illusion that a proofread constitutes an edit. Can that be put down to lack of experience? But what writer goes through the long and often arduous process of writing a novel and doesn’t know about peer feedback/Beta readers through contact with other scribes? Are there many who aren’t members of writing forums where they post one or more chapters and have elements pointed out that need work? Even then, they’d have to reciprocate and would gain experience from the process of peer-critting, so would know, or at least would have an idea, when something needs reviewing.
Then again, even with the growing levels of quality releases in the ever-expanding self-publishing world, there’s still a substantial amount of what can only be described as muck out there. My problem isn’t that it’s badly written, because anything can be worked out and improved through rewriting and editing. No, my problem is that writers ‘in the know’ decide to do it on the cheap by releasing something ‘hot-off-the-press’, more than happy with the knowledge that punctuation, spelling errors, and repeats have been cleaned and rectified by a professional proofreader.
A proofreader of worth will point out that a manuscript needs editing, but won’t dig deeper than the façade. Why should they, it’s not their job, and they definitely don’t get paid enough. Either do I, for that matter – but that’s another story. A line-edit, or substantive edit, ploughs a furrow through every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, page, scene, chapter, character, action/reaction, setting, conflict, tension, drama, emotion, timeline, style, plus a zillion other things that might lurk beneath the sheets. Everything is ironed out, but always only as a suggestion for the author’s consideration. It’s he/she who will ultimately decide what makes the grade, though that often comes after some serious ‘interaction’ between writer and editor.
The distance between proofing and editing is close to the difference between night and day – they stand apart because the former comes nowhere near the latter for the way a novel turns out. A proofread blows the dust off, while a line-edit mends broken limbs, stitches gaping wounds, and salves all lacerations with a level of empathy and compassion you’d only get from your mother. A line-edit ensures that your novel stands firm on its own two feet, and that its cheeks are flush from a healthy flow of blood around its body. It’s a holistic process that delves into all levels and heals all ailments.
After the author returns their ms for a second edit, I switch into copy-editing mode to ensure all upper layers are working, and once this edit is returned I slip into proofreader mode. Yes, all three levels of editing are incorporated into a modern editor’s service – a full-on edit that cuts no corners.
Why in that event would you be satisfied with a simple proofread? It doesn’t prevent the rot, and believe me that rot will spread once your novel is released and your first flush of readers react, most likely online, through the broad platform of social-media. If your work is below par, there is no escape from the discerning eye of the reader. Be warned. Have your work line-edited and reap the benefits on release.
If you don’t believe me, send me a sample chapter from your work-in-progress and I’ll do a free line-edit for you with absolutely no obligation on your part. Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website for further details. http://clearviewfictionediting.com/